Friday, March 25, 2011

The Soft Tyranny of Low Expectations

ECUSA's House of Bishops is gathered for its annual spring meeting at the Kanuga center near Hendersonville, in North Carolina. The spring meetings have in the past been characterized by an atmosphere of retreat and contemplation, with a goal of increasing the ability of the group to work together -- while separated from the turmoil of Church politics (what an oxymoron!). As one participant expresses it:
I remember the first Spring meeting we had there after the melt-down General Convention in Phoenix when Ed Browning decided we needed to meet more regularly as bishops, to work on our common life, and to find venues in which to pray and talk and relate to one another, free from the highly-charged “political” atmosphere of General Convention or even the traditional Fall meetings of the House.

I think these meetings have served us well and one doesn’t [hear] the “d” word –”dysfunctional” — thrown around quite so much any more describing the House of Bishops. These Spring meetings used to have more of a ‘retreat’ atmosphere which I always appreciated. I think some of that has gone by the wayside over the years, but the conference/retreat center setting of Kanuga still lends itself to a different feeling for the meeting.
Given the collegial atmosphere and expectations, therefore, it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that the leadership of ECUSA has arranged a slightly different agenda for the 2011 spring meeting of the House of Bishops. That agenda includes an indoctrination of the attendees into what President Ronald Reagan once memorably called "the soft tyranny of low expectations" (and which George W. Bush changed into "the soft bigotry of low expectations"). Again, we have this eyewitness account (I have added the bold emphasis):
After a challenging address by the PB to “show up” in the various challenging venues of today’s world, we had a report from a committee on changes in governance of The Episcopal Church, concerns about the new Title IV Canon revisions (clergy discipline), a report from the committee on same gender blessings, and from a group looking at devising a process for the “reconciliation or dissolution of a pastoral relationship between a bishop and a diocese!”

Wow! For the new bishops: welcome to your new role!
"Welcome to your new role," indeed. Bishop Epting (now retired, but attending in lieu of Bishop Scarfe of Iowa, who is on a sabbatical) may not realize how close he has come to hitting the nail on the head. While the number of new bishops in the House of Bishops not politically significant, and is at best a dozen or so among a total of about 130, it is essential that the new bishops be, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, "carefully taught".

And what better subject for the "teachers" than the newly created metropolitan authority of the Presiding Bishop herself? She begins the process with an exhortation to the assembled bishops to "show up in the various challenging venues of today's world" (how postmodern can we make this?). Having thereby subtly established her authority to issue pastoral directives to her colleagues, she hands the real task of instruction over to those who were the architects of the changes to Title IV of the national Canons -- the members of the (Second) Title IV Task Force. The constitutionality of their changes has been called into serious question, both on this blog and on others deeply concerned with Episcopal Church polity. It is a bit disconcerting, but nevertheless entirely within the character of the current administration, to have the assembled bishops hear only from members of the Title IV Task Force, who continue to maintain -- in the face of all historical and logical evidence -- that they are right and every other canon law expert is just wrong.

Enter "the soft tyranny of low expectations": the new bishops, having never known what it means to be an independent diocesan with no superior, will not miss their freedom. And they will be ushered into the new Era of Jefferts Schori, when the slightest challenge they might offer to the Primate's authority can trigger an immediate suspension from office. Talk about being kept in line -- they will never summon the gumption to test the strength of the velvet nooses around their necks!

There will be some exceptions, notably the Bishop of South Carolina, who kowtows only to Christ, and not to any mere mortal. Any such show of independence may well serve as the initial test of the Presiding Bishop's authority; but she may also be cautious at first, and choose to establish precedent with a spineless specimen who she knows will not fight back. When the House of Squishops backs her up, she will know that it is time to make her move.

And then the "soft tyranny of low expectations" will meet "Don't Tread on Me." We are in for some interesting days.

[UPDATE 04/03/2011: The picture continues to be filled in by more reports. It turns out that "Doubting Thomas" and I (see the previous update, below) were talking about two completely separate events. In addition to the "Short Course" presented for those who will be involved in disciplinary proceedings under the new Title IV, which took place during the two days before the official start of the HoB meeting, there was also a special committee of bishops appointed by the Presiding Bishop to look into the controversy surrounding the adoption of the new Title IV. As far as I am able to tell, this special committee, or "task force" (hence the confusion with the "Title IV Education Task Force" and the "Title IV Task Force II"), met with the members of the Title IV Task Force II (both episcopal and lay), who had drafted the changes, and with Messrs. Runyan and McCall, and then made a report to the House of Bishops which thus included a summary of the reasons why Bishops Lawrence and MacPherson believed the changes to have gone beyond the constitutional powers of General Convention. This "report", and the brief discussion which followed it, took place at the opening Friday session of the House of Bishops, but was not reported in the official summary. Nevertheless, it now appears to be what Bishop Epting was writing about, while the two other reports mentioned below obviously had to do with the pre-conference Short Course, since they were dated earlier and referred to a two-day session.

Although the special HoB "task force" thus was separate from the members of the Title IV Education Task Force who had presented at the Short Course, its membership nonetheless included Bishop Robert L. Fitzpatrick of Hawaii, who served on the Title IV Task Force II. And it is still of consequence to note that despite the report, the House of Bishops took no action to request the convening of a Special General Convention to deal with the coming constitutional crisis over the implementation of the new Title IV starting next July 1. It is for that reason that I find today's Gospel reading (John 9:1-41) so apt.]

[UPDATE 04/02/2011: Over at StandFirm, commenter "Doubting Thomas" challenges the accuracy of the above account, having learned from his "source" at the HoB meeting that the presentation to the assembled bishops included the concerns of Bishop Lawrence and his counsel, C. Alan Runyan, and was not as one-sided as portrayed.

I stand ready to correct any misstatements above; I always respond to corrections. In this case, however, while I do not doubt that Bishops Lawrence, MacPherson and perhaps others raised their doubts about the constitutionality of the Title IV changes during the discussion at the Kanuga Conference Center, I continue to have my doubts about the balance of the presentation.

First of all, readers should note that the coverage of the Title IV discussions was pretty much nil in the blogosphere; apart from Bishop Epting's blog, which I quoted above, there is only this post by Bishop Lane, and this brief Tweet by Bishop Prior. The daily official summaries from the House of Bishops contain no mention of the discussions. And now, after some further research, I find out the reason why this is so.

It turns out that the sessions dealing with the Title IV changes were not part of the regularly scheduled House of Bishops meeting; they took place in the form of a pre-meeting "Short Course" put on by the College of Bishops for any diocesan bishops, their canons to the ordinary, and their intake officers who wanted to arrive two days early. Here is a link to a description of, and application to attend, the two-day "Short Course" -- note that a $450 tuition fee was charged. And please note who are the "Facilitators" for it (second and third bold emphasis added):
Representatives from the Nathan Network, Chancellors Network, Church Pension Group, the Title IV Education Task Force as well as noted psychologists and psychiatrists will be present.
The "Chancellors Network" is the shorthand name of the group consisting of those church attorneys who are the chancellors of the various Episcopal dioceses. Among their members are Duncan A. Bayne and Diane E. Sammons, both of whom served on the Title IV Task Force II on Disciplinary Policies and Procedures, which proposed the final Title IV revisions to GC 2009. Here is a link to a program of the 2010 meeting of the Chancellors Network, which shows on the third page that Mr. Bayne and Ms. Sammons gave a presentation about the Title IV changes to that meeting. Both Mr. Bayne and Ms. Sammons serve on the second group whose name I bolded above, the "Title IV Education Task Force". As I say, I stand ready always to correct what I report here, but I would certainly be surprised if neither Mr. Bayne nor Ms. Sammons (nor Bishop Dorsey Henderson, for that matter -- another member of the latter group) was among the "Facilitators" of the Short Course at Kanuga.

The reason for my belief is what the only available program for the event lists as "resources" for attendees, available on the Web. It includes the paper, of which Mr. Bayne is a co-author, on the constitutionality of the Title IV revisions posted here, and whose flaws I dissected in this post, in this one, and in this. It also references the criticisms of the Title IV changes authored by Mark McCall and C. Alan Runyan posted here and here, but not their latest and most thorough rebuttal, posted here. Finally, it references a brief exchange concerning an argument in favor of the Presiding Bishop's authority, to which Messrs. McCall and Runyon responded (this exchange must constitute the "discussions" to which Doubting Thomas's source referred).

To date, there has been no counter-response to these criticisms from the Title IV Education Task Force, even though I have an open invitation to Mr. Bayne to explain just how the shift to a metropolitan Presiding Bishop could be made via a revision to the Canons, instead of first amending the Constitution, in light of the history of all the previous attempts to do so as detailed in the posts linked above.

Therefore, while I would be happy to learn from any actual participant that there was a free and open discussion of the criticisms of the changes articulated here and by Messrs. McCall and Runyan, to date I have seen nothing that requires me to change the account I first gave above. If Chancellor Runyan or Mark McCall was actually afforded an opportunity to address the group, then I will happily make that correction; but it sounds as though the facilitators came entirely from the pro-Title IV side.

And please note the most important fact of all: there was no official action taken at the House of Bishops meeting itself concerning Title IV. The pre-meeting training was just that -- an indoctrination for all bishops, especially new ones, into the implementation of Title IV. No action is contemplated between now and July 1 to prevent or delay that implementation.]


  1. Mr. Haley,

    To paraphrase a professional colleague* of Ms. Schori: "Constitutions? We don't need no stinking Constitutions!" Why ought we expect anything different? Has anything yet occurred to change her Weltanschaung? I think not. The saddest thing is that the active complicity in her outlawry by a majority of the HoB bodes ill for ECUSA.

    I am no seer, nor have I experienced any sort of revelation about ECUSA other than the late September 2008 experience which unambiguously required that I depart that body. Nevertheless, my sense is that ECUSA is, essentially a dead organism, although the message has either not yet reached its "brain" or else that "brain" has failed to recognize its arrival.

    You will all be in my prayers.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    *—My somewhat hastily written 2008 letter of resignation from membership in ECUSA cited specific evidence from published sources that clearly demonstrated that she was engaging in dissimulation and outlawry.

  2. Umm.... as for mottos, I think it could also, The "soft tyranny of low expectations" will also be meeting
    "While I breathe, I hope" soon or even better "Let no man despise thee".

    SC Blu Cat Lady

  3. This is not just a change in church polity. At the heart of this is an intentional secularization of a church by the leadership.

  4. She is a spider! Welcome to her web.

    Rdr. James